As a coach and consultant to nonprofits and their leaders, this unique moment has resulted in my having a recurring conversation with my clients. We’re living in a time of fear and it's apparent in these discussions. Many of the leaders, staff, and volunteers of nonprofits are finding themselves paralyzed and wondering:
While there’s no perfect or “correct” answer to these questions, I believe charities and their leadership will respond based on their shared values and what they deem most appropriate.
As for me, my response has been the following:
Nothing Has Changed while Everything Has Changed
For clarification, nothing (about your mission and vision) has changed while everything (about the world we’re operating in) has changed - at least for the near term. I believe our actions should be driven by that reality. My response is formed by personal experience and perspective.
I started my nonprofit career a week before September 11, 2001. I was living in New York City and life there was an endless reflection of the grim events the world had witnessed. If you worked for a nonprofit that wasn’t saving lives or caring for those involved in the rescue efforts, it was a struggle to feel relevant. It was even harder to feel like it was appropriate to ask for support for your work. At the time, I was a volunteer fundraiser for a nonprofit doing wonderful work for children in hospitals. I truly believed the organization’s work was important at that very moment and would be once life resumed with some sense of normalcy. I felt compelled to ask for donations even in the midst of this challenging environment.
I’ve also been thinking about conversations I’ve had with volunteer fundraisers hesitant to reach out to donors year after year for a campaign or event like a walk. These volunteers feel the need to “leave the donor alone for a year or two” thinking the donor is tired of giving - and hearing from them. Personally, if I was giving to (for example) heart disease research, year after year and then I stopped being asked, I’d be a little curious... Did they find a cure? Did the fundraiser stop caring? What’s up? If it was important last year and the year before that, it still is unless something has changed about the cause.
Here’s my major point: If you believe in the work of your organization, continue to believe in it, advocate for it and fundraise for it! The need for what you do hasn’t changed, only the environment in which you work has. You may need to make modifications to be respectful of what individuals and families are going through. However, I believe you’ll be well served by taking a proactive approach to communicating with your constituency and stating the need for support. Here are a few guidelines for doing so effectively:
I can’t guarantee that doing the above won’t result in the occasional grumble or unsubscribe. But if your work was worthy of donor support before we knew about the coronavirus, unless something’s changed about your mission, it still is. I believe that by continuing to communicate your presence and need for support, you’ll be better positioned once we find ourselves in that new normal.
If I can be of assistance in crafting your approach, I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org
For the long holiday weekend, my wife and I went back to her hometown. As is our longstanding arrangement, she was doing the driving (everyone is happier that way!) I wasn't sure where we were headed and to my surprise, we pulled up to a newly built animal shelter. I knew another pet for our household was off the table so I asked why we were here. My wife explained that we had donated to the building. An old friend of hers had been a member of the campaign leadership team that drove the fundraising to build the shelter. She was eager to see how everything turned out.
As we stepped out of our car, I sensed some hesitancy on her part. "Do you think we'll be allowed to take a look around?" she asked. Her question seemed surprising to me. I couldn't imagine a reason why we as donors wouldn't be welcome to see how our support was being used. I am happy to share that we stepped in and were warmly greeted by a team of friendly volunteers. We spent the better part of an hour touring and visiting pets that were treated with dignity and compassion.
This got me thinking back on my experiences with donor visits or what I often refer to as Show and Tell. I've worked with several organizations - particularly in major gifts and institutional fundraising roles - where donor visits, tours and learning opportunities were an assumed part of the cultivation strategy. At the same time, I realized that too often individuals that didn't meet a predetermined threshold were rarely - if ever - encouraged to get an upfront look at how their donations were being put to work. This is a missed opportunity on the part of the charity.
While not every nonprofit may not be able to provide donors with opportunities to see, connect or even talk to those who benefit, if yours does, take full advantage of it. Here are some suggestions for a good start:
Make donors aware they can visit: Sounds obvious doesn't it? But using our case as an example, we didn't know that we were 100% welcome and were concerned that we'd be interrupting the work. As it turned out, there were volunteers that were more than willing to provide guidance. Remember, this is your chance to shine! Be sure you're getting the word out that your volunteers, prospective donors and donors are welcome and encouraged to see your mission in action. Make it part of your messaging on your collateral, social media and every part of your communication.
Make sure the visit has a specific structure: Ensure that your organization has a set structure for encouraging donor interaction and engagement when visiting. Involve your volunteers, staff and (if appropriate) clients in designing a tour that introduces visitors to the core elements of your mission, best practices and most importantly, the impact of your work.
Make the visit inspiring: In a recent post, I noted the "Johnny Can't Read" approach to introducing donors to the work of a charity. This is the classic tug-on-the-heartstrings approach and I'm not a fan. You show the children that can't read, the family without a home or food on the table, the isolated at-risk teen...you get the point. Do the opposite! Use your visit to highlight the impact your donors have made possible through their donation. Show them the children that now can read, the family that has a home and food on the table and the teens that are the first to graduate and go to college in their families. Tell them stories of Inspiration - not tragedy.
Make the visit actionable (with a range of options): You've had a great visit, your donors are enthusiastic and inspired. Now what? Be sure donor visits conclude with a specific and timely call to action or better yet, several options for action. Sure a donation is fantastic but there are other ways your donor might want to get further involved. Maybe your organization has a need for in-kind contributions or services. Let donors know that these are welcome. Encourage donors to volunteer or even consider board service. Think beyond dollars.
If your donor has taken the time to visit, you're already doing something right. Use the visit to educate, inspire and move them on to an even deeper level of connection with your organization. .
A few months ago I wrote a piece called Three B’s To Focus on Now That You’ve Got Your 501(c)-(3). It was focused on three components nonprofit leaders should concentrate on once they are legally launched. I suggested focusing on building their Brand, Budget and Board. I noted that getting these pieces right create the foundation for thriving nonprofit organizations.
There was a reason I started with Branding as that first B. There might be a few marketing professionals that will take issue with how I’m utilizing the concept of Brand and the activity of Branding here. Nevertheless, for ease of reference (Three B’s are easy to remember) and as a way to capture the big picture, identifying a nonprofit’s Brand stays true to form.
Chances are you’re familiar with some of the more well known nonprofit brands - their logos as well as what they stand for. A bit over two years ago, The Nonprofit Times published Consumers Pick Top Nonprofit Brands. The list included names such as The American Red Cross, ASPCA, Special Olympics and St. Judes Hospital. The survey was driven by asking consumers what they thought of the charity and whether they wanted to interact with it.
Larger and well-established nonprofits tend to have the resources to work with sophisticated marketing agencies that can respond to these questions. And I’m fully aligned with with Dan Pallotta and the Charity Defense Council in their assessment that this is money wisely spent. Nonprofits should commit a portion of their resources to marketing and building brand recognition: it’s critical to their ability to fundraise. Since I tend to work with newer and growing nonprofits, I wanted to offer a few suggestions for developing a nonprofit brand that will create ongoing trust and relationships with the communities they interact with:
Focusing on these three practices might not be as cool and snazzy as a new logo. They will however, help your organization build trust, recognition and support enjoyed by the best.
If you need help or guidance on the above, please reach out at email@example.com or (917)733-8569.
Exercise and fundraising.
What do these activities have in common? At first glance, very little.
But they take on a special meaning for a client of mine named Thea Wood, founder and President of Backstage Chats Foundation, a wonderful organization doing transformative work around music and gender equality. She groups them together as the activities she tackles first thing in the morning before moving on to the work that inspires her, drives her and what she’s most passionate about: amplifying the voices of women in music — both the entertainers as well as the industry itself.
If you’re a leader for a small or a newer organization, taking a regimented approach to your fundraising
efforts (much like daily exercise) can be invaluable.
For example, blocking out an hour of your day for person-to-person fundraising activities can be transformational.
There’s an important distinction here: I’m not talking about fundraising-related activities, i.e. writing grants, managing social media, etc. While these are important activities, they don’t involve the definitive work of development: cultivating relationships and sharing your mission with others. Rather, this hour is dedicated to true one-on-one fundraising work with real people and where you’re speaking as opposed to emailing or texting. To get started:
This is an invaluable practice to start now. The cool thing is that by the time you’re starting to find high-quality prospects, you’ll be getting good, comfortable and articulate. The only difference would be that you may have a shorter transition from the lesser-quality to the higher-quality prospects.
And much like exercise, it gets easier over time.
Give it a try, in just an hour a day!
“Because we have to chase him. Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now, so we'll hunt him. Because he can take it, because he's not a hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a Dark Knight.”
From “The Dark Knight”
Maybe you’re wondering what this confusing yet oddly memorable quote from the Dark Knight has to do with Board Development for nonprofits. Actually a lot. When you set aside all the hero and chase stuff and focus on the idea of needing vs. deserving, it’s quite simple and relevant… Just like Gotham City in 2008, too often charities start with the board of directors they need at that moment. Yet, they now find themselves without the strong and effective one their admirable work deserves.
I was reminded of this recently when I was working with several new charities on maximizing the effectiveness of their board. All were in the startup to growth phase and speaking with them, I identified three consistent trends:
These characteristics for new boards may be all too familiar to you. To make matters more difficult, founders of these organizations are often reluctant to ask these new members to step up or step off. This is understandable since often these members are part of their inner circle.
Let’s face it – starting a nonprofit is hard enough. It requires extraordinary commitment, passion and perhaps above all, perseverance (popularly known as Grit). So, don’t go it alone. Here are three suggestions to organizations that find themselves in this place:
If you build it, they will come...We’ve gone from Batman to Field of Dreams! If you need some help on this, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or 917-733-8569.
I was recently coaching a new and very enthusiastic client that literally received her 501(c)(3) designation the day before our meeting. I was also excited that she had just received her first donation as well - off to the races! She had gathered lots of research, had a multitude of tasks and she was ready to dive into all of them.
As has become customary for me, I asked if she had a budget and could she tell me about the board of directors she had assembled. The room got noticeably quieter. I hadn’t asked her to shame or embarrass her but it was clear that she hadn’t quite gotten to those. I suggested that before anything else she focus on a Budget and her Board. I then joked that I wished I had a third B so I could suggest focusing on The Three B’s. Without missing a beat, she suggested Branding! Loved it!
I’m guessing a few of you - or even many of you - may argue in favor of other areas besides Branding. You may even question my other B’s. But in a world where simplicity can help, putting ideas and activity into short and memorable arrangements can help. So perhaps you’ll find thinking of The Three B’s helpful in your work whether it’s launching and building a nonprofit or other businesses - here’s a bit more on all of them:
Hope you found these quick tips helpful. If you need help building your Brand, Budget and Board, I’m happy to help. You can reach me by phone at 917-733-8569 or my email email@example.com
My life as a stockbroker back in the 90s provided me with some of the best training ever. One of the most important lessons came early on as I was struggling to build my book of business. My job was simple: cold-call 300 prospective clients a day, grab their attention in 10 seconds or less, make a pitch, and CLOSE THE SALE. Fortunately, that industry has evolved to cultivating relationships and understanding a client’s needs. There are in fact, some parallels to what we do in the charitable sector however we use kinder, gentler terms like outreach, engagement, presentation and securing the commitment.
Anyway, after three months and a degree of success, my sales manager asked me to do a presentation to the other trainees about what I did every day. I was surprised as I didn't think I was particularly good at the job. I didn't fit the description of that mythical figure, the "born salesman." When I looked around the room, I saw infinitely better salespeople: smooth talkers, closers and pros - some of them were so good that I was ready to buy from them!
I asked my manager why he wanted me to give that kind of talk. I just did the same thing every day: I dialed the phone, tried my best to get someone on the line who would listen (preferably a decision maker), talked about a mutual fund I thought was cool and asked them to buy it over and over until they bought it - or hung up on me. He said "Exactly! You're Boring! That's the key to success in this industry."
As fundraisers, considering the myriad of ways we can distract ourselves from the core part of our job, I’m thinking we could all use a bit more "Boring" in our lives. As I sit down at my desk each morning, I’m flooded with opportunities to NOT find new prospects and donors to talk to: podcasts, trainings, meetings, webinars and the list goes on and on. Boring works - and I'll dare to say that it can even trump inbred talent and all of the aforementioned training tools - when applied consistently. Here's why
boring worked then and still does:
I had a plan to follow: I started my career at Smith Barney, a big "white shoe" firm. They crunched the numbers to be sure the right person was taking up a sales desk. They knew what it took to be successful after years of experience and calculations. It was simple - if you made 300 calls and presented to at least 10 prospects, you'd open one account. You just needed to do that X number of times to get your desired number of clients.
I was passionate about my products: I opened all my accounts with a mutual fund that leveraged the massive consolidation that, at the time, was going on in the banking industry. I did this because I understood it, found it easy to explain and could describe it in about 15 seconds. It didn't matter if I was on the phone, at the deli, the gym or wherever - I loved talking about it and did so with anyone that would listen.
I did the same thing every day! How many of us start each day with a plan? How many of us just wing it and see what happens? Unlike today where salespeople have tools to keep us on track (or create distractions depending on how you use them), there was only one approach to getting my business started: finding prospects and converting them. No facebook or email to check, no tweeting or instagramming - just talking to people about what you’re passionate about. All the time, not just on the clock.
While I recognize this approach may be nostalgic (it was the 90's - remember them?), I think much of this still applies to our work in the charitable industry. You still need a game plan for meeting new donors and that should be part of your work every day. In terms of passion, it's pretty simple - find yours! If you're working with a nonprofit that doesn't get you excited every day, there are thousands of others that would welcome your support. We work in an industry where we get to change the world - one of the best ways to do it is be wonderfully "Boring."
If you want some help figuring out to be at least a little bit boring, let’s talk! You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 9177-733-8569.
I recently wrote about the challenge nonprofits face around the ever growing demand for metrics. In Are Nonprofits Hitting Goals or Creating Results I highlighted the fact that today’s organizations are forced to be hyper-focused on gathering data points and meeting metrics. Beyond that, I’ve been in situations where I’ve genuinely questioned whether there is real learning going on. Is all that gathering of data the means to an end or is it really being used to increase the impact of an organization with a social mission?
When something like the above is on your mind, you become acutely aware of it. That’s what happened to me as I was working with a new client that has programs that provide a series of interventions in underserved school systems. One of their top funders, a foundation, had stipulated that not only did they want to see their donation partially matched by the board, they required reporting on the number of students participating in their programs, whether these students had attended a set number of workshops and produced a clear deliverable - a demonstration project. The end goal was that the nonprofit would be in a position to report back that both the match was raised and the agreed upon metrics had been gathered and reached.
The situation above isn’t inherently good or bad. In fact, this relationship dynamic between nonprofits and those that fund them - individuals or institutions - plays out every day. Yet, it speaks volumes. Or should I say the lack of reporting on the actual impact and results speaks volumes. I was left wondering why the foundation didn’t want to know more about the impact on the young people going through the nonprofit’s programs. Did they have a more positive attitude towards learning? Had their perspectives shifted on how they saw themselves and others? Ultimately, had their lives been changed in some way?
The challenge we face in today’s world whether we’re talking about nonprofit work, business or just about anything else is that we’re obsessed with measurement. Even worse, too often our criteria for measurement is woefully narrow or simply inadequate to gauge the success or impact of the work. We look at numbers but exclude the value of learning. We study metrics but discount the impact of our actions. Since I consider myself a realist, I realize and to a certain extent even appreciate that metrics and measurement aren’t going away. At the same time, here are a few tips for operating in our increasingly measurement happy environment.
What is your organization measuring or gathering data for that could use some alternatives to standard and narrow measures? This is a conversation worth having not just internally but with your partners - and yes, even your funders. Looking for more ideas on making your nonprofit more impactful? Let’s have a conversation. You can reach me at email@example.com or 917-733-8569.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the difference between Goals and Results especially as it pertains to our work in the nonprofit sector. This comes on the heels of participating in a program called Creating the Impossible (CTI) hosted by International Coach Michael Neill. The core of the program was the challenge of launching a project that had less than a 20% chance of achievement. In other words, the project wasn’t supposed to simply be a Big Goal you could conquer through pure tenacity and discipline. Rather, the idea was to create a Result - something you can actually share with the world in an impactful way. By this definition a Result could be anything from a piece of art or music to a new program by a nonprofit that alleviates poverty, homelessness or a disease.
Having served in the nonprofit industry over the past eighteen years, I’ve seen an important shift in philanthropy. Individual and institutional support has moved from giving simply “to be a good citizen or community member” to donating with the worthy intent of having an impact on a cause or issue. At the same time, both individual and institutional donors have an increasing drive for the nonprofits they support to provide “proof” that their intervention is working.
The above isn’t inherently bad or good. I understand our very human inclination towards receiving a fair value for dollars spent - whether they’re purchases of goods or services - or donations. I do believe however that in an increasingly competitive funding environment, this shift can push nonprofits towards an overemphasis on the proof while losing sight of the need for Results. Remember, Measurement does not equate to Results. To measure is simply to quantify. Results create something new in the world. That something can be a different state of being, a new direction or brand new set of possibilities. Or something that we might not even be able to identify yet. Quite simply, it’s all about Change.
But in this age of measurement, metrics and defined impact, here are some questions nonprofit leaders need to be asking themselves:
Are We Choosing Metrics Over Results? The answer is rarely as simple as a yes or no. It’s more a question to delve into whether you’re showing the symptoms. Are you and your team spending more time collecting data as opposed to looking at what the data means? Do meetings with donors put you on edge and have your team scrambling to fill in key metrics as opposed to being challenged to figure out whether the metrics have borne out the hypothesis for your intervention. These are some leading telltale signs.
Are We Learning From the Metrics? Similar in some ways to what’s discussed above is the question of whether your charity is simply collecting or learning. One step further would be using these metrics to see what’s NOT working, owning and course-correcting for it. One of the other big challenges the nonprofit industry faces is an environment that rarely supports experimentation, risk-taking, and even (OMG) occasionally failing. Metrics should be used well-beyond fulfilling reporting requirements. Used strategically, they’re a resource for identifying how we can do what we do - but better.
What’s the Right Balance for Our Organization? Please know I’m not advocating that we step back to the days of simply “doing good stuff” and nothing but touching stories to share the impact of our work. What I am taking a stand for is awareness and finding that important balance between communicating the impact of donor dollars while ensuring that your charity always has its eye on the prize - Real Results that Change Lives.
If I can help you and your organization increase your impact, please let me know. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I was recently reminiscing with a friend about a campaign we worked on back in 2006. The program was focused on getting backpacks and school supplies to New York City's homeless children. I still remember the line in our solicitation letter that said "we hope you’ll consider being a good corporate citizen and supporting our program with a sponsorship". That sponsorship world has changed dramatically since I wrote that hopeful letter.
The days of companies simply wanting to be "good corporate citizens" are long gone. They've been replaced by strategic and value oriented partnerships with charities. Today's nonprofits need to articulate what they can offer a corporate sponsor that can help them grow their business, raise their profile in their industry and community AND help them do good. Organizations that can answer these three questions are the likely winners when it comes to securing sponsors:
What is your organization's Brand and Delivery Promise? Your organization needs to say what you intend to do and what you've actually done. If there's a gap, how are you narrowing it? If your organization's mission is to reduce gang violence by 25% and you've helped reduce it by 15%, how is that other 10% going to happen? What are the alternatives if that doesn't happen the way you planned? Remember back in the early 80's when Domino's promised 30 minute pizza delivery? They backed it up with a guarantee of free pizza if they didn't deliver on that promise. While the charitable community is tackling much bigger problems than late-night munchies, we need to demonstrate the same levels of accountability.
What makes your organization unique? Chances are, there's a charitable organization that does something similar to what you do. They could be wooing your prospective sponsor as you read this (yikes!) What makes your organization utterly one-of-a-kind? Is it knowledge, research, program, staff, leadership or something else entirely? Be able to share it quickly and clearly. And...
How Can Your Nonprofit Help A Sponsor Grow Their Business? All of the above matters if and only if, you can connect your mission based work with an opportunity to help your sponsor increase their visibility, and engage customers more deeply with their brand. Take the time to understand your prospective sponsor's business objectives and create a platform that addresses them in ways they can't themselves. For example, a granola bar company can talk about and even advertise their intention to educate the next generation about healthy food choices and exercise. That message is reinforced in a truly authentic way when they sponsor a charity running program for teens with both cash and in-kind donations of their product. Partnerships where both the charity and the sponsor move closer to their mission is the ultimate goal.
These are the questions that we, as nonprofits, need to be answering to ensure the future of our work and truly value oriented sponsorships. If I can help you and your charity to connect and secure more sponsorships, let me know. You can reach me at 917-733-8569 or email@example.com.
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
Want to keep getting the latest New Thinking? Click Below...